Shawna Leigh at Strangetown Studio, 2017
I decided a few months ago that after some 14 years of photography training, I was going to hang up my virtual board-rubber and concentrate on other aspects of my business – and perhaps some new business ideas as well. This was a very difficult and emotional decision for me but the more I considered it, the more it seemed like the right thing to do.
I began teaching photography at Birmingham Botanical Gardens as a way of earning a few extra quid while studying for my photography degree. As quite a shy person, I didn’t really relish the idea of standing in front of a group of fee-paying students and finding out I didn’t know as much about photography as I thought I did. But contrary to my expectations, I not only really enjoyed teaching, but I knew more than I thought I did, and I continued to learn with every course I taught.
Over the years, in courses and workshops at the Botanical Gardens, mac (Midlands Arts Centre), Stratford College, Solihull College, via Fotofilia and FOTO-CLUB, and at numerous private venues and institutions, I have had literally thousands of students in front of me. It has been a real pleasure and a privilege to watch absolute beginners develop into competent (and sometimes professional) photographers, some of whom I still consider friends. Our journey has taken us through at least 6 studios, too many courses and workshops to count, overseas trips, exhibitions, two successful photography clubs, numerous “copycat” “competitors”, a fair bit of frustration and a LOT of laughs.
So why would I give up something that I have grown to love? Well, there comes a time when other priorities arise, and you realise that what you’re offering is no longer achieving the level of interest that it used to and is suffering from a very crowded marketplace (so many photographers I know have begun to offer training on a more regular basis where they were previously less interested) and a growth in “peer knowledge” where groups of beginners or near beginners come together to “learn” from each other, often at little or no financial cost. Quality, it seems, can be less important than cost and increasingly, people are happy to glean bits of experience from other eager amateurs for free than have to pay the inevitable overheads/salary of full time, qualified professionals. I can understand this and believe it’s an inevitable consequence of the widespread belief that “anyone can be a photographer”.
Also, when many of your workshops rely on professionally-minded models, it can be frustrating to note a significant decline in the reliability of models, both male and female. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some wonderful models (and non-models) over the years and there is a reason that some are invited back time and again – they can be trusted to show up when a group of paying photographers are expecting them too. Sadly, I have been let down by more and more models at the last minute – arriving up to 90 minutes late or even not at all, calling in sick or suddenly uncontactable shortly before the shoot only to pop up on social media as working elsewhere or out on the tiles. The modelling interface sites like Purpleport and Purestorm are no help in this regard – when I left appropriate feedback on one model’s profile to reflect a last minute no-show, the feedback was removed within 24 hours. It is therefore increasingly difficult to provide a supply of “new” models for workshops without that knotted-stomach feeling of wondering whether they’ll show up.
So, I’ve arranged a few last bits and pieces for FOTO-CLUB early in 2018 and then that’s it. You’ll find these here on the website. I’ll say a proper goodbye to FOTO-CLUB nearer the day but for the moment, thank you.